Sunday, January 11, 2004

We'll always have Copenhagen...

There's a lot to love about Copenhagen by British playwright Michael Frayn.

For one there's the taut historical mystery: Why did German physicist Heisenberg go to visit his Danish mentor Bohr at the height of the Second World War? (An article about this debate written by me.)

Then there's the basic theme of the play: The unknowability of the human mind -- even your own. (As extrapolated from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.)

What I love best about this play is that it's four days since I saw the Mirvish/NAC/Neptune co-production and I'm still thinking about it. (For one, I'm thinking about how Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applied to human thought smashes the very tenets of Method Acting. Discuss.)

The NAC/Mirvish/Neptune co-production, however, is a disappointment. The "Science is mystical!" fallacy permeates the show from the way the actors deliver their lines to the mathematical formulae that are projected on the back wall as if they were pentacles or masonic symbols. (All of the video projections are distracting and, well, just plain unnecessary.)

No wonder so many people walked out saying, "Boy, that was good but I didn't understand it" -- Diana LeBlanc's production tells the audience that they shouldn't understand or expect to understand it. Like, science is hard.

(The best part of this Copenhagen? Martha Henry as Bohr's wife Margrethe is astonishing.)

Production aside, go see the show, because the play is so darn good. I recommend reading Copenhagen's script before you go, though, because it's really not something that is easy to take in on first viewing.

Post-script

-- Reviews: The Star is the only one I see online.

-- Frayn's fascinating post-script to the play.

--- Historian Paul Rose's riposte to the play, which he thinks is "subtle revisionism" and an apologia for Werner "He-who-tried-to-build-an-A-bomb-for-Hitler" Heisenberg.

-- Frayn's post-post-script, which takes into account and counters Rose's critique (and others').

-- A whole slew of essays about the play from a symposium held in Washington a couple of years ago.

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